And climb the stairs to the beach...

Thursday, August 29, 2013

There Ain't Nothin' Like a Puffin

I just love Puffins. I knew very little about them before researching for today's blog, except they were cute in photos, with their colorful faces and waddley little way of walking.  Those little faces with bright broad beaks and triangular looking eyes, make them seem like living, breathing cartoon characters. I want to see a Puffin in the wild and it's on my bucket list. One of the few things that I actually have on that list, I guess. I usually just play things by ear and try to enjoy life as it comes, but maybe I need a plan. And recently, after announcing that bucket list item on Facebook, my cousin-in-law Steve, who lives in Maine,  has offered to go with us on a Puffin boat tour out of Bar Harbor next year. I am wildly excited about that trip! 

I found out online today, that there are three species of puffin in the US, but only one lives in the east while the other two reside on the west coast. Horned Puffins and Tufted Puffins live in the north Pacific Ocean. Our puffins, the Atlantic Puffins are found in the north Atlantic with their largest population in Iceland but some also do nest in Maine. There are about 1,000 nesting pairs in Maine now, while there are over 10 million breeding each year in Iceland. So, they are not really endangered, just not as common in Maine as they once were. In Iceland, they are eaten and often appear on hotel menus. In fact, a raw Puffin heart is considered a delicacy. AWWWWK!

Puffin in milk sauce - Mjólkursoðinn lundi

4 puffins
50 g smoked bacon
50 g butter
300 ml milk
300 ml water to taste salt

Puffins should be skinned or carefully plucked and singed. Remove the innards and discard. You can use the breasts alone, or cook the whole birds. Wash well in cold water and rub with salt, inside and out. If you are using whole birds, truss them. Lard the breasts with bacon fat. Brown the birds on all sides, and stuff them tightly into a cooking pot. Heat the milk and water and pour over the puffins. Bring to the boil and cook on low for 1-2 hours (test the birds for softness). Turn the birds occasionally. Remove from the cooking liquid and keep warm while you prepare the sauce...

Click Here to Hear The Puffin.

Fortunately, Maine considers them threatened and they are making strides in revitalizing the breeding population there. You will not find Puffin in milk sauce, served with Brussels sprouts and caramelized potatoes in any restaurants in Maine. 

They are a member of the Auk family, a really great word for crossword puzzle and Scrabble fans.
Interestingly enough, one of the few predators they have to look out for is a Skua, also a very good word for a crossword puzzle or you Words with Friends people when you have a K, difficult to use but the 3rd highest point scorer at 5, and a U when the Q has already been used up with Qi or Qat.

Puffins are affectionately called Sea Parrots and Clowns of the Sea. They have short wings, suited for diving and swimming underwater, like penguins. But they are also fast and able in the air. They flap their little wings quickly, up to 400 times a minute and can reach speeds up 55 miles an hour. They are only about 10 inches long and weigh not much more than a pound.

The puffin, genus fratercula: Fratercula is Latin for Little Brother or little Friar, probably named because they look like they are wearing monestary garb with their black and white plumage.

Their feet and legs are bright orange and their beaks, during breeding season, are black and red.

They shed an outer layer of the beak after breeding season, revealing a dark, less interesting beak beneath. These beaks are broad and because of that, they can bring large beakfuls of live sand eels and minnows to their chicks (called pufflings, hee hee).

The average mouthful is 10 eels or minnows, but someone took the time to count, and they have actually counted one mouthful containing 62 eels. (Don't ask me how they counted them, it's just what the National Geographic Website said!)

They establish long lasting relationships, the breeding couple. The male prepares the nest in a burrow or crevice in the rocks, for the one egg that the female will lay. They both incubate the egg. The pair often returns to the same burrow year after year.  After the little puffling hatches, they take turns feeding it.
It leaves the nest and spends some time with the colony of fledglings and parents until they are ready to leave their birthplace. When they are ready to go, which they do only under the cover of night, the babies fly out to sea and will not return to land for several years, when they are ready to breed themselves. Puffins spend most of their lives at sea, only returning to the coast to breed.This makes it difficult to track them at sea, but if we are lucky, they will return.

Here is a link to a LIVE webcam of Puffins. It's not very active right now as it would be during breeding season, but it's still fun to see them live in real time.

Puffins of Sea Island LIVE

For forty years they have been trying to revitalize the Puffin population in Maine. Here is a video of some of the Puffins off Seal Island in Maine. Click here or on the video (sometimes this is the only way you can go to video if you are on your ipad.)

Yup, it's on my bucket list. To see an Atlantic Puffin, in the wild, would be a pretty awesome thing, It think.

Have a great day!

1 comment:

  1. I didn't know puffins were on the east coast at all. How convenient! They are very cute and clownlike. Like clownfish. If I saw both at the same time, I'd be thrilled.


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